For Ali Eastburn wedding rings have come to symbolize something completely different–drinking water for impoverished Africans.
“I was at a women’s retreat and there were discussions about what we treasured,” Eastburn said. “I had been married a few years and looked down at my hand and had this huge solitaire on. I had to have this diamond.
“Then it hit me, ‘Oh my gosh, what have I been doing?’ I was so into material things. I began thinking that if a I sold this ring I could use the money to start better serving others.”
That inspiration led Eastburn to start the With This Ring ministry.
The concept is simple. Women–and men–are encouraged hand it their pricey wedding rings. The profits go to the ministry, which in conjunction with Living Water International digs water wells in West Africa.
Eastburn resides is the suburban Los Angeles town of Yorba Linda, located in Orange County. Her husband Ken is a Southern Baptist minister who runs The Well, a network of Southern California house churches.
Following the retreat Ali Eastburn contacted some of her close friends and many of them agreed to her initial plan. She then telephoned Ken, who was attending a conference in St. Louis.
“When I first told him about it his response was, ‘Whoa, I don’t know,’ ” Eastburn recalled with a laugh. “He asked some of the others with him and they said people will never go through with it.”
Over the past year and a half that initial skepticism has become enthusiasm.
With This Ring began digging wells by tapping into her husband’s existing mission contacts in Ghana. In a relatively short period of time the ministry has either completed or is working on 20 wells in the Yendi region of northern Ghana and will be expanding work to nearby Sierra Leone.
Raised in a Jewish home, Eastburn joked about how the ministry violated preconceived notions she had about her future.
“First I said I would never marry a pastor and second I said would never go to Africa,” she said. “It’s not really the kind of thing I ever thought I would do and I absolutely loved it.”
Living Water agreed to help dig the wells if With This Ring made the effort to go and find places where they could be needed.
“It was an incredible experience,” Eastburn recalled. “We went into a couple of villages and you have to go meet with the chief in his palace. It’s really a mud hut, but you need to go in on your hands and knees because no one is allowed to be higher than the chief.
“I never would have imagined myself in that kind of situation working an interpreter to try and discern the village’s water needs.”
And there is a definite science that goes into well-digging. Eastburn said a hydro geologist must work to determine where a viable water source might be. It then takes a process of digging, testing and perhaps digging again until a reliable source is hit and water can begin to flow. The entire process until the source can be tapped and flow is usually about two weeks, Eastburn said.
The ministry has also thus far been able to steer clear of potential political and social hurdles.
She said she did not start the ministry as a protest against the African diamond trade. Natural resources, including “conflict diamonds” have helped fuel wars throughout the continent.
“The diamond trade or political views weren’t a factor in starting the ministry,” Eastburn said. “It was just about there was a lot of money on my finger that could be put to better use.”
Eastburn said she has been advised to walk a fine line on the diamond trade because of the obvious impact it has on the economic lives of Africans despite social or political circumstances. She also cited the existence of the international Kimberley Process, an agreement designed to weed out conflict diamonds.
With This Ring has also dealt with operating in a majority Muslim country in Ghana. To date this has not been a major hurdle to clear.
“For the most part the government doesn’t get involved,” Eastburn said. “Our focus is on meeting the needs of the local people. We have not encountered one drop of resistance.”
In fact, she said, local people have been receptive to Christianity, have asked questions and, in some cases, been given Bibles in native languages.
The faith aspect of With This Ring has prompted married couples to sacrifice their rings in this form of what Eastburn termed “radical giving.”
“We’ve had questions if this is just something divorced people do with their rings, but well over half of the people who have contributed are married,” said Eastburn, who now sports a silver band she purchased at Target.
Stepping out in faith to do what some people would consider too sacrificial is based in part on Isaiah 61:1-3, verses which command care for the poor.
“It’s a passage that means a lot to me,” Eastburn said. “It feel I now know a little more what it means.”
Another younger person who may also grasp the concept is a girl named Abby at Red Hill Elementary School in nearby Tustin, Calif. A fifth-grader, Abby has raised $1,500 as part of a self-started school project to sponsor a well. The total for a well costs about $8,500.
“To see that kind of passion out of such a young girl like that really gives you hope for the next generation,” Eastburn said.
With This Ring: http://www.withthisring.org
The Well: http://web.me.com/thewelloc/The_Well/
Living Water International: http://www.water.cc/
Natural resource wealth contributes to conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo: http://everydaychristian.com/news/story/1201/
Kimberley Process: http://www.kimberleyprocess.com/